WASHINGTON — National and local civil rights groups are asking federal officials to aggressively challenge new election laws in Alabama, Mississippi and other states, saying the laws threaten to reverse decades-old efforts to expand voting rights to all Americans.
“It’s a widespread rollback of voting rights the likes of which we haven’t seen since poll taxes,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a voting-rights group based in Washington. “So we’re going to fight like we did in 1964.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he understands the fight, calling voting rights protection a priority for the Justice Department.
“Despite so many decades of struggle, sacrifice and achievement, we must remain ever vigilant in safeguarding our most basic and important right,” Holder said in a speech in Texas on Tuesday. “The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common.”
Holder’s speech sent a “good shot over the bow,” said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who led the 2006 effort to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act.